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DIPLOMA COURSERA BLENDED JPG

Coursera AKUJYGVVKA35

 

UPDATE: CONCRETE  YouTube Channel  “PROACTIVE ESL”  created as part of the project, here:

PROACTIVE ESL with Teacher Andy

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Blended Education Model for the Improvement of

ESL Speaking and Listening Skills via Zoom Meetings/Webinars.

 

 

Andrés Melo Cousineau

 

January-March, 2020.

 

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SECTIONS

 

A. Introduction

B. The basic two-pronged project

C. The interconnection to curriculum

D. Other benefits and risks

E. The Question of Motivation

F. The Question of Assessment

G. Other experienced blended-teaching application samples: EF

H. Disrupting the blended model: The Humanities´ original disruptive essence

I. Technology: hardware and software.

J. Sources and bibliography

 

 

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A. Introduction

 

As I have been an in-class ESL teacher for many years, one who is also a photographer and permanently up-to-date with technology, I have always been interested in seeing the possibilities related to teaching languages beyond the physical classroom, be it through hybrid, blended or flipped classrooms. In other words, continuing to traverse the ¨brick to click¨ adventure, as they say. Especially in the learning of languages, the use of the internet has become an everyday fantastic possibility. Some of my personal favourites, among many: “Mango” https://mangolanguages.com/ and “Tandem” https://www.tandem.net/ . For a more complete directory see here: http://c4lpt.co.uk/directory-of-learning-performance-tools/learn-a-language-online/

I myself have used the online learning options not only at Coursera, having finished three courses already (including learning Mandarin!), but also several at Udemy (for drone photography) and many more at the amazing The Great Courses (including many directly related to the role of the Humanities in education and cultural understanding). Moreover, I have been lucky to have learned multiple languages in diverse periods of my life and have been able to do so using diverse methodologies and technologies. This has taught me best how to be a better language teacher. A flipped kind of teacher! LOL.

I particular, I see the disruptive possibilities for current ESL classes by using online teaching as a form of emphasizing oral active (speaking) and passive (listening) production given that many students feel that both speaking and listening to English are some of the most difficult skills for them. Just today I heard once again, after having heard so many others,  how a student repeated, “my English is broken”, and at the very same time added seriously,  “but I have a very good teacher”. I am sorry, great teachers do not have students who end up seeing themselves in this way. Learning English thus becomes a source of frustration. But learning is definitely the highest joy available to humans. This is why I told him to tell me how you would say “My English is not broken” in Tibetan, for he was exiled from Tibet. He immediately offered the translation. I told it to repeat it to himself out loud. He got what I was saying to him, and laughed.

So we do need disruption. Disruption is necessary. Technology can be another avenue for such disruption. However, technology on its own can never be disruptive. This is why disruption is generally praised while avoided in reality.  Few  “talk the talk, AND, walk the walk”. As Bates puts it:

“teaching and later distance education, to a force for radical change in our educational systems – but radical change based on the full potential of e-learning is something that still has yet to occur on any significant scale”. (Bates; my emphasis)

And this disruption is not merely progressive or futuristic. True disruption moves beyond technology, Otherwise, we moderns would be the only disruptors in history! It also involves seeing that perhaps the truest education is the recovering of certain forms of understanding which are now lost to us. The original disruption is the disruption of the soul. Coming from the Humanities, one need only think of the original disrupter, Socrates. Everyone knows his name, few read him. And even less so read him in the original Ancient Greek. Learn Ancient Greek, disrupt yourself. Talk the talk, walk the walk.

 

B. The basic two-pronged project

More specifically, my project is twofold;

First off,  to create a set of more permanent online lessons geared towards understanding why it is in fact so difficult for some students to speak and listen to English, for instance, by focusing on:

a) pragmatic pronunciation and fluency issues such as the “schwa” and issues such as the difference between “stressed-timed” languages and “syllable-timed” ones (or, another way of putting it, focusing on “thought groups”) which I believe are crucial to overcoming the sense of failure many students have in themselves,

b) the use of specific grammatical areas such as “tag questions” or “phrasal verbs” or “past progressive”, and many others, which students “LEARN”, but cannot actually produce in their communicative interactions (what the specialists, and there are tons of specialists, call “acquire”). For instance, you can have a billion apps on “phrasal verbs”, but not a single student be MOTIVATED to learn them. You can complete the sentence: “She is a teacher, isn’t she?” in a textbook or exam, BUT NEVER be able to produce a SINGLE tag question in a conversation.

and finally,

c) communication-focused topics such as c.1) those used in Business English classes —and their conception of realia and real-world assessment— which include “communication”, “presentation and body language”, “leadership”, “ethics”, “multiple intelligences, and many others, or c.2) the fundamental communicative functions which are the core topic of what is known as “Survival English” (“Buying Things”, “Giving Directions”, “Ordering in a Restaurant”, etc.).  The Mango app EXCELS in this regard,

All of these, most of which we have already prepared over the years, would be set up by using screencast software such as “ScreenFlow” for the Mac in combination with other software such as Keynote, PowerPoint, iMovie (see “Technology Section” below.) and linking the finished video vlogs as specific lessons on YouTube to reach a larger audience —not of TESL experts— but of frustrated ESL students.

Secondly, and this is the real concern of this piece of writing, to use technology to engage in 1-to-1 classes (or, very small groups of maximum five such as those used in Business English environments), by means of a video conferencing technology called “Zoom”; a technology which can also be linked to broader Learning Management Systems (LMSs).  In this sense, this second focus is very different from the huge MOOC courses whose audience, by their very nature, is extremely large. In contrast, mine seeks more of a 1-on-1 interaction so that the speaking and listening skills can be focused on an individual case. (or perhaps, in some cases a maximum of five students). But even for larger groups, this would apply as well, if scheduled correctly and using one’s imagination.

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DIPLOMA COURSERA

Reflections: Political Thoughts on Sustainable Development (A Commentary on Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs’s Coursera course: “The Age of Sustainable Development”)

Having had the opportunity to start to undertake Professor Sachs´s quite informative and extremely educational course on Sustainable Development (SD) –now going into its 6th week— I would like to briefly express some of my concerns and questions regarding SD. Of course, as I read the Discussion Forums, many point to issues regarding the many factors involved in the implementation of the policies which SD allows us to better see and hopefully, to implement, specially in those cases of “poverty trap” in which the conditions are more troubling and recurring. No one wishes to live in inhuman hardship all his/her life; extreme poverty must be eradicated via a concerted effort, and by all ethical means available. In this regard, many of the now famous “TED talks” allow us to try to imagine the hardships and thus feel the importance of connecting lovingly for serious practical improvement: for example, TED talks by: 1) Bono, 2) Jacqueline Novogratz (specially the one regarding prostitution), and my two favorite, 3) Jessica Jackley, founder of KIVA  here , and 4) Bunker Roy founder of the Barefoot Movement here . Also, non-academic books such as The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris, which tells the story of microfinancing success KIVA whose motto is tellingly “loans that change lives”, humble us and transform us in ways we could not even foresee. In brief, many are concerned, and rightly so, with practical issues. Many forum posts in this course come to mind in this regard. Let us just recall a simple one:

“Hello all peers,  My name is Abdikadir Daud from Ethiopian Somali region, I’m forwarding my thanks to the course   facilitator because I got extended knowledge from this course and I will transfer this skill to my communities .
Thanks
Abdikadir” ( here )

Abdikadir from Ethiopia, like many of us from around the world, wants to make a difference.

However, my questions proceed from a very different area. They pertain to philosophical questions, that is to say, they deal with the core concepts, formulations and assumptions which must be put forward in the case of any given approach to the complex political and economic reality in which we live. P. Sachs himself does not tire of saying that SD is not merely a PRACTICAL path to CHANGE the world, but also –and more importantly— a THEORETICAL path to UNDERSTAND the world (Lecture 1, Week 1; and beginning of 1st Google Hangout, here ). He even goes so far as to say that it is a NORMATIVE framework which means it involves certain moral presuppositions. These convey the limits, for instance, for all business practices; not everything that is legal should be done. (see, for instance, 2nd Google Hangout: Question No. 4, “On the role of regulation of business.”) Consequently, my main concern regarding the EXCELLENT lectures we have been fortunate to partake in, is to signal –however embryonically– to some of the more puzzling philosophical underpinnings underlying the Sustainable Development Movement. This means that, according to such a critique, it becomes extremely important to undergo a rational critique of the core concepts which guide the interpretative self-understanding of SD. I believe that training in the humanities (specially, political philosophy) alone provides the impulse to see the real importance of such a critique, a political/philosophical critique. I also believe that, given this theoretical inclination, few of our fellow Coursera virtual classmates will proceed to consider the rest of this –much longer than normal– post!

Obviously –though I have lived half of my life in Colombia (which exemplifies many of the problems P. Sachs speaks of, and MORE!) and the other half in Canada (which exemplifies many of the benefits of which P. Sachs speaks of, and MORE!)— we must immediately confess that we do not possess the intellectual capacity nor the global comprehension that somebody like P. Sachs allows us to perceive in each of his engaging video-lectures for the Coursera course. We are but learners, poor in understanding. Be this as it may, nonetheless we will venture to point to what I consider to be some extremely troubling silences and/or omissions which may make us –should make us– question SD forcefully.

Now, although I have already tweeted  to #susdev some general short questions, for instance: 1) “ #susdev Suppose we ALL were middle-income citizens of the world. Is that enough? Would our spirit not lose sight of what is MOST important?”, or 2) “ #susdev Isn´t there a rhetorical identification between “extreme poverty” and “poverty” which does not allow for a real critique of SD goals?”, still –as mentioned above– our concern in this post is somewhat more detailed or profound.

We could say that SD, in general —and Clinical Economics, in particular— could be giving us a “differential diagnosis” that may SEEM to point to the root cause of things, variable as they may be, but which may end up REALLY missing the CORE causes of the general “disease” with which some thinkers believe we are currently afflicted as moderns and post-moderns. And by missing some of the CORE causes, it might not be providing the best “medicine(s)” available/desirable. In the philosophical arena, the most radical critics in this regard would be those who follow Heidegger´s powerful critique of technology. Though extremely important, we shall not go into that camp here in detail.

Rather, using P. Sachs own clinical analogy, we can say that it is common nowadays to see traditional Western medicine incapable of treating complex diseases which do not have to deal with physical trauma or life-death situations. Chronic illness, such as different forms of arthritis/fibromyalgia, are a case in point. Of course, P. Sachs´s views seem to us to be much more akin to alternative medicine, in this respect. For one of the basic tenets of alternative medicine is that each patient is UNIQUE. So, each country, according to “Differential Clinical Economics” is likewise, quite UNIQUE. P. Sachs does not tire of saying that a holistic approach to the healing of poverty cannot be founded on a single linear conception of cause. Failing to understand this uniqueness may in fact worsen the situation beyond recovery. In medicine, one need only bring to mind the controversy over the drug Celebrex which not only did not actually cure your arthritis (it simply alleviated the pain), but actually –with certainty– damaged your heart! The history of many other drugs follows this pattern, unfortunately. In political life, the current political turmoil of countries such as our feverish neighbor Venezuela, may be thought to be something akin. As you will see, given the spirit of this post, one truly wonders what P. Sachs´s thoughts are on the current crisis in Venezuela, precisely because its regime claims to hold power for the poor. However that may be, P. Sachs —who also helped Bolivia during its feverish times— summarizes this view well:

“The modern doctor is expected to diagnose the specific causes of a specific patient’s illness and to offer a specific prescription that is accurately honed to that patient’s conditions and needs. The modern economist should do the same in diagnosing the persistence of poverty.” (our emphasis; Chapter 4: “Why Some Countries Developed While Others Stayed Poor, I. The Idea of Clinical Economics”)

 

Thus, one imagines that if P. Sachs himself were to fall ill, he would most likely search for an alternative medicine center rather than a traditional monolithic hospital built on unquestioned homogeneous forms of understanding, (or better yet, both if possible, for not all traditional doctors are self-enclosed and not all alternative doctors are truly open). The drama of the latest candidate for the Oscar Awards which deals with HIV/Aids –the compelling movie, Dallas Buyers Club—exemplifies all these tensions perfectly. For we, who have been sick, know well that the sick are among the poorest, mind you.

But, as you will see below, our critique could be said to involve a much more intense and alternative diagnosis than the one which P. Sachs offers. It would be an alternative to the alternative; but much more troubling. It would be an alternative that would show –if someday made fully explicit– that the alternative provided by SD is, in the end, really, really, not so much of an alternative except in the imagination, albeit with some crucial exceptions, among them, that of the eradication of extreme poverty itself. The idealistic overtones of SD would be seen thus to be constantly destabilized by the realistic peculiarities of localities, by a kind of non-Machiavellian political realism (i.e., much closer to Thucydides´s) and by certain “intractables” of human nature. Or to be less severe and less cranky (!) —for we know, as its students, that SD has partially succeeded IN REALITY through exciting models such as those of the Millennium Villages– one could say that the goals of SD, for instance, the Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG´S), must be corrected with recourse to another tradition which not only sets the hierarchy of these goals aright, but also may add some which may have been altogether forgotten in SD differential diagnosis, however complete it claims to be. ( here )

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